From: Clash of the Titans (1981)
Classification: A creature from Greek myth that became a ’80s Fantasy movie icon.
The story of Medusa is an ancient tale that is almost as old as the culture of Greece itself. Many yarns have been spun about her over the past couple millennia but many things have held between one tale to the next. Known for her beastly and serpentine form, snakes for hair, and a gaze that turns people to stone, Medusa is a villain that has stood the test of time.
In an effort to summarize the elegant and deadly nature of this monster I will recall the version that has stayed with me since I was five years old.
Clash of the Titans was another brilliant fantasy movie that the master of stop motion monsters Ray Harryhausen worked on. Also a producer on the film, Ray Harryhausen teamed up with writer Beverley Cross (also husband to Maggie Smith) whom he worked with before on Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger and Jason and the Argonauts to create this Greek myth inspired masterpiece.
In the film, the three, blind Stygian Witches tell Perseus that the only way to defeat the Kraken is with the head of Medusa the Gorgon. Freely speaking since Perseus holds the magic eye the sisters use to see, the Witches also tell Perseus that Medusa lives on an island on the river Styx, on the edge of the underworld. They also tell him the tale of Medusa, that she was once a beautiful woman whose vanity was her downfall and she was cursed by the gods to live a life as the monstrous Medusa that we see in the film.
After gaining access from Charon the ferryman to Medusa’s island, Perseus and his men must first battle her protector (?) Dioskilos the two headed dog. (As a side note I used to have a totally boss puzzle of Perseus fighting Dioskilos as a kid. Had fantastic art, wish I still had it.) Once Dioskilos falls, Perseus and his remaining men make their way through a ruined landscape littered with the stone remains of would-be heroes. They travel down into a ruined temple where one of Perseus’ men is killed almost instantly by one of Medusa’s arrows. Also a skilled archer, Medusa’s bolts come flying through the air with a distinctive sound that added to the heighted sense of dread in these scenes.
Perseus and Medusa play a deadly game of cat and mouse that sees Perseus’ last solider on the ruined island get turned to stone. Darting between pillars and laying in wait, Perseus uses the reflective underside of his shield to surprise Medusa and behead her.
In a scene that has stuck with me for 35 years we see the struggling body of Medusa cling to life as her head lay nearby. As the body shutters in its final moments and as the fight for life ends, thick poisonous and acidic blood pours from her neck. Perseus has won but at the cost of his men and his magical shield.
In this film, Medusa’s blood also has the ability to transform normal scorpions into large, monstrous scorpions that dispatch more of Perseus’ team of heroes. It is like Medusa herself oozed pure evil and others could become corrupted by it. But in the end Medusa’s head turns the Kraken into stone and Perseus saves the day.
Clash of the Titans was Ray Harryhausen’s last film. He retired shortly after the films release. On the film he utilized models of all sizes and shapes to bring the many monsters and creatures to life. Everything from Bubo the owl to the evil Calibus were created with practical effects rarely seen nowadays. Harryhausen was a genius and had a personal connection to all of his creations. His art work was a major part of my childhood and I will proudly pass on more of his monstrous creations in the weeks/months/years ahead in my Monstrous Mondays posts.